Beginnings: St. Paul’s Church was a product of the post-WWII baby boom. In 1955 the Reverend William Clark, rector of Trinity Church, Concord, and the Reverend Harold Handley, rector of the Church of Our Redeemer, Lexington, supported by Archdeacon Donald Noseworthy, began assessing interest and support for the establishment of a church in Bedford. The first service of the newly formed St. Paul’s Mission was held at the Anthony Hunt Hamilton Post of the American Legion on December 18, 1955. The Reverend Henry Bird, deacon, presided and the parish records show that 155 persons were in attendance. In 1956 Henry Bird became the full time vicar of St. Paul’s. The services eventually moved to the upstairs meeting room of the Old Town Hall on South Road. Sunday School classes were held in the cafeteria of Center School, a block away. Henry Bird was ordained to the priesthood in the Town Hall in December, 1956. As the new mission prospered, obtaining land and building a permanent church became high priorities.
Assisted by the Diocese, St. Paul’s purchased land on Pine Hill Road in the mid-fifties. A mortgage was obtained and a building fund was established. Gustav Hagen was selected as the architect and plans were drawn for a building in which the main room could serve both as the church and the parish hall. The Mondrian style stained glass windows that Hagen designed remain a treasured symbol of the church today. Parishioners helped in the construction of the church, and many of the furnishings were donated by parishioners and other churches. The free-standing altar, pulpit and lectern were designed by Mr. Alle Dobson. St. Paul’s Church in Bedford, England, after which our church was named, sent a fifteenth-century carving of an eagle which is now displayed in the narthex. The first service was held in the new building on Easter Eve, April 5, 1958.
Growth and Change: In 1959, Henry Bird accepted a call to a new parish and the Reverend James Whitaker became the new vicar. In 1960, St. Paul’s purchased a house for its vicar and his family on Springs Road, near the center of Bedford. During the Reverend Whitaker’s twenty years at St. Paul’s, the parish grew and matured. Permanent pews were placed in the church and the pipe organ was obtained, restored, and installed. In 1976 the parish hall was added to the building, allowing for more space for activities.
St. Paul’s has continued to provide worship, Christian education, and fellowship opportunities to many individuals. Spiritual renewal and growth were a major focus and St. Paul’s participated in two Faith Alive weekends. The parish has a commitment to outreach and supported the Diocesan Advance Fund, a theological student in Uganda, the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for the World Relief, and especially inner city parishes in Lowell and Boston. With others churches in Bedford, the parish sponsored a refugee family from Laos who settled in Bedford. Under James Whitaker’s leadership, the St. Paul’s Mission achieved parish status on January 29, 1968.
Refining Mission: In 1981, Reverend Whitaker resigned as rector to become a chaplain at the Bedford VA Hospital. In February, 1983, the Reverend Elsa Ph. Walberg became the third rector of St. Paul’s. She was instituted as the first full-time woman rector in the Diocese of Massachusetts on May 31, 1983, amid much excitement and interest by the larger community and the press. During Elsa Walberg’s tenure as rector, the Parish grew both in numbers and in spirituality. The congregation began using the 1979 edition of The Book of Common Prayer and the 1982 Hymnal. Several musicals were performed by the youth and adult choirs. Mission played an important role, with active involvement in the Lowell Ethnic Covenant and the Merrimack Valley Housing Partnership, a group dedicated to upgrading existing housing and building affordable units in the nearby city of Lowell. The Reverend Barbara Smith Moran spent her transitional diaconate year at St. Paul’s and was ordained to the priesthood there in 1991. Her interest in the relationship between science and religion provoked much thought and discussion. Barbara served the parish as priest during the summer of 1991 while Elsa Walberg was on sabbatical.
A major effort during Elsa Walberg’s leadership was a capital campaign entitled Renewal. The goal of the campaign was to make several changes to the church, including providing an accessible entrance, accessible bathrooms, sound-proofing of the parish hall to solve a severe acoustical problem, addition of storage space, and replacement of some lighting and ceiling panels. In addition, the parish committed to the use of 10% of the money that was raised for outreach projects. The work was successfully completed, and that portion was given to support a variety of local and urban needs in the area.
Remarkable Women: Following Elsa Walberg’s retirement in 1991, St. Paul’s called the Reverend Patricia Handloss Stern in October, 1993. Pattie Stern’s preaching and skills in pastoral care were an important part of her ministry. The Reverend Stern initiated monthly children’s sermons as part of the Sunday service and included children more fully as participants in the Eucharist. A long held dream of many parishioners to build a memorial garden in which the ashes of church members and their families could be buried became a reality during this time. Following the untimely death of Senior Warden Martin (Terry) Gurley, the gifts of his friends and family and other members of the parish provided the funds. The garden was designed by Randall Wade, a former parishioner, and constructed in the summer of 1995. It is dedicated to the memory of Terry Gurley. Pattie Stern resigned in September of 1995.
In October of 1995, the Reverend Ann Broomell was appointed the Deacon-in-Charge at the request of the vestry. Ann was ordained to the priesthood at St. Paul’s in April of 1996, a very happy and exciting event in which the parish joyfully participated. Ann’s tenure at St. Paul’s brought growth in members, stewardship, spirituality, and vitality.
Inviting and Serving: In August 1999 the Reverend Frank Fornaro was called as the new rector of St. Paul’s, beginning his full-time ministry in October. During Frank’s tenure, parishioners became more actively involved in lay ministry during the Sunday Eucharist, as teachers in the growing church school, as members of the expanded Vestry and as participants in fellowship, Christian education, and mission. Significant improvements were made to the church building, and participation in worship was enhanced for many with the addition of a sound system. Frank also presided over the Capital Campaign to enlarge and improve our parish hall and add new classrooms, which coincided with the parish’s 50th Anniversary. Frank retired on May 23, 2010.
St. Paul’s Today: Rev. Christopher Wendell was called as St. Paul’s rector in 2011, and began his ministry with us in August. Rev. Rachel Wildman came to St. Paul’s as a seminarian in 2013, later serving as a part-time curate and eventually our assistant rector until 2022. Rev. Thea Keith-Lucas has served as priest associate since that time, and the parish welcomes Molly Minnerath, currently a postulant for Holy Orders, as our lay ministry assistant in fall 2023. St. Paul’s continues to grow in members, faith, and love. We look forward to the blessings and challenges ahead, and we welcome you to our faith community.